Busch not look­ing be­hind af­ter sym­bolic win

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - MLB - By Ge­orge Diaz Staff writer gdiaz@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com

DAY­TONA BEACH — Kurt Busch did not look back as he rum­bled about 150 miles an hour to­ward the fin­ish line. He couldn’t. His rear-view mir­ror was bro­ken as he closed in on the check­ered flag in the Day­tona 500.

But later on, in Vic­tory Lane, his new bride helped put the jour­ney — and all those bumpy road­blocks — in per­spec­tive.

“‘You know, it’s an omen that your mir­ror came apart be­cause you’re not sup­posed to be look­ing in the rear-view mir­ror,” said Ashley, Busch’s wife since early Jan­uary. “You’re sup­posed to be look­ing out front and what the fu­ture holds.”

Busch, fi­nally al­low­ing the big-pic­ture sce­nario to sink in, re­flected on her words dur­ing the tra­di­tional “Cham­pion’s Break­fast” at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way on Mon­day morn­ing.

“That meant the most to me, more than any­thing in vic­tory lane last night,” he said.

The ride has been rough at times for the vet­eran NASCAR peo­ple call “The Out­law.” Busch didn’t com­pete in the 2015 Day­tona 500 af­ter NASCAR of­fi­cials sus­pended him for ado­mes­tic-violence dis­pute.

Pa­tri­cia Driscoll, his ex­girl­friend, claimed that Busch had choked and beat her the previous year in­side his mo­tor home at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way. Charges were never filed, and Busch was re­in­stated in March 2015.

The re­la­tion­ship was a bit of a Crazy Town Hall­mark movie, with Busch claim­ing that Driscoll told him she­was a trained as­sas­sin, and Driscoll coun­ter­ing that Busch had prob­lems with al­co­hol and de­pres­sion.

Driscoll was sub­se­quently in­dicted in 2016 for al­legedly steal­ing froma mil­i­tary char­ity. Busch has moved on, clearly on a re­demp­tive path.

Now38, Busch has found a nice bal­ance of pro­fes­sional and per­sonal sym­me­try. Mar­riage has made him a happy man af­ter a tu­mul­tuous ride. Win­ning the Day­tona 500 for the first time in his ca­reer has made him ap­pre­cia­tive of the jour­ney.

“I’m a sur­vivor just giv­ing it my all,” Busch said.

Day­tona’s 200-lap grind is sim­ply a mi­cro­cosm of Busch’s long road trav­eled. A bunch of cars wrecked on Sun­day, send­ing peo­ple like his younger brother Kyle, Jim­mie John­son and Dale Earn­hardt Jr. home with cars in a scrap pile.

Busch’s No. 41 Ford took some hits, too, but pushed on, with man and ma­chine re­ceiv­ing an­other for­tu­itous run of fate when Chase El­liott and Kyle Lar­son dropped out of the lead pack when their cars ran out of gas.

Busch was close to run­ning on empty, too, and thought he­was done.

“I lit­er­ally put my head against the head­rest and said, ‘Please, don’t hit me too hard when you come zoom­ing by,’ ” he said. “And then I crossed the line and you see all the flash­bulbs go­ing off in the grand­stands head­ing down into the short chute, and that’s the mo­ment that I knew. I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing over the ra­dio.”

The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur, too, as it al­ways is for Day­tona 500 cham­pi­ons.

He woke up Mon­day to 500 texts that he had not yet read, adding he was for­tu­nate not to have set up voice­mail on his new phone. He did man­age to peek at a num­ber of texts, in­clud­ing one from Mario An­dretti.

“That meant theworld to me,” Busch said, later ac­knowl­edg­ing texts from Michael An­dretti and Marco An­dretti as well — peer-group pride con­nected to Busch’s ride with An­dretti Au­tosport in the 2014 In­di­anapo­lis 500.

But the best mo­ment in­volved fam­ily. He called his mom Gaye on Sun­day night. Through her tears, she was equally proud and re­lieved that Kurt and Kyle had found safe pas­sage in the Day­tona 500.

It had been par­tic­u­larly un­set­tling two years ago when Kyle suf­fered a dou­ble compound frac­ture in his right leg and a frac­ture of his left foot com­pet­ing in an Xfin­ity Se­ries race.

“She just al­ways thought that Day­tona and Tal­ladega were the tough­est on her boys and she just wanted us to come home safe, so when I called her I felt like I had placed the sword in the stone,” Busch said. “I said, ‘We’ve con­quered it. We’ve con­quered Day­tona.’ ”

A cham­pion forever­more. No need to look back again.

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Kurt Busch cel­e­brates in Vic­tory Lane af­ter win­ning the Day­tona 500 on Sun­day night with­out his rearview mir­ror.

BRIAN LAWDERMILK/GETTY IMAGES

Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Haas Au­to­ma­tion/Mon­ster En­ergy Ford got beat up along the way, but he still fin­ished with his first Day­tona 500 vic­tory at the age of 38.

JERRY MARKLAND/GETTY IMAGES

Chase El­liott (24) had the lead at the end un­til he ran out of gas, giv­ing Kurt Busch his chance.

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